Catherine Durkin Robinson: Cancer-fighting genes — apparently they're important

DISCLAIMER: You’re about to learn a lot about breasts, which most moms and even a few dads have. This is important. But keep in mind, I barely understand science, have been known to meditate with “healing” crystals and often need all 10 fingers and toes when dividing by 2. Good luck and happy reading.

A few weeks ago, I underwent genetic testing for cancer. The news wasn’t great. One of my important cancer-fighting genes is like Caitlyn Jenner’s IUD: just for show and utterly useless.

This distinction earned me a free, lifetime membership in the elevated risk group at our local cancer center. My first meeting with that group’s doctor happened last week.

I went with the following questions.

“What exactly is wrong with me?”

I ask this a lot. Doc’s answers were different from the guys on Tinder.

Everyone has two sets of genes. With cancer-fighting genes, a mutation or change in one alters its ability to fight cancer. This is why someone with a mutation has an elevated risk.

My story is a little different. One of my cancer-fighting genes is fine, doing the job it was designed to do.

The other is AWOL.


The genetics team said they conducted a thorough search. I fought the urge to tell them to go back and look behind the ketchup. Researchers conducted the test several times, but returned empty-handed, like my kids searching the garbage for their 900th retainer. That second gene is simply nowhere to be found.

“What does this mean?”

Nobody knows.

In the worldwide database of people who have been genetically tested for cancer, I’m the only one with this particular medical issue.

That’s me. A category of one. To put it into perspective, that’s the same number of respected Osmonds.

You thought it was my worldview and eyebrows that made me unique.

When you visit a doctor, sometimes they have nifty statistics that put your mind at ease (80 percent of patients with your symptoms survive) or freak you out (20 percent of people with your symptoms suffer anal bleeding.)

In this situation, I’m the only statistic.

Doctors stared. Researchers smiled. All of them thinking, “I ain’t never seen one of those.”

Like rural Floridians when they find out I’m a feminist supporting school choice and Bernie Sanders for president.

“Does a breast reduction mean spotting early signs of cancer can be difficult?”

Actually, no.

I didn’t make many good choices in 2007: turning vegan, moving to Colorado Springs, donating to the John Edwards campaign. I did have breast reduction surgery, though, and that procedure reduced my risk for breast cancer.

That’s why, if mom is the carrier, I’ll get yearly mammograms, yearly MRIs, weird experiments, and maybe a world tour.

“If mom is negative, will I need to consider a mastectomy?”

Sometimes you already know the answer to a question, but ask it anyway. Like, “Am I fat?” or “Does this smell weird to you?”

I was hoping Doc would say a prophylactic mastectomy is not really necessary, but she didn’t.

This is because, once again, there aren’t many females on Bio Dad’s side, and since I’m the only one researchers have ever seen with this particular missing gene, a mastectomy might be better than a 50-60 percent chance of breast cancer.

“What can I do to help reduce the risk?”

According to cancer experts: Food that comes from the ground — good. Food that at one point walked around and shit on the ground – bad.

Avoid smoking, sedentary habits, and obstinate Geminis.

No foods that have estrogen, or provoke it — we want to decrease estrogen when thinking about breast cancer. So no tofu and no yams.

Fish is fine.  Then my doctor said, “Limit alcohol.”

Blink, blink, blink.

This is not something you tell a volatile Irish woman co-parenting two sons and juggling five jobs, who believes “patience” is a virtue for the lazy and unmotivated.

How am I supposed to get through social events with people who think their ability to grow facial hair signals something deep and profound? How am I supposed to get through work functions with people who’ve never heard of Gertrude Stein? How am I supposed to get through editorial meetings where no one cares that originality only exists on a respirator in some remote part of the planet that no one visits anymore? How am I supposed to get through life?

Unfortunately, the doctor told me, estrogen loves fat. Fatty livers grow from the drink. Bottom line: three glasses of wine a week.

Four million moms are yelling, “I drink that in a day!”

I usually drink five or six glasses a week. “It enhances the meal,” is my official reason, because “Shut up” is rude.

Alas, buzzed-up dinners and any ensuing tolerance for stupidity are a thing of the past. I’ve been telling my kids for years that when someone loves you, depends on you, cherishes you – you lose the right to be self-destructive. Enjoy an isolated life and make lots of bad choices if you wish, but if you want loved ones, you’re simply not allowed to wreck yourself.

Now I have to abide by my own rules and lay off the sauce. It’s only a matter of time before my hippie friends get that call they’ve been waiting for since 1992.

“Dust off the old incense holders. I’ve switched to weed!”

We’ll find out soon if mom’s the carrier and whether I get to keep my breasts.

I need a drink.

Catherine Durkin Robinson co-parents twin sons, organizes parents for political purposes, writes syndicated columns, mentors kids, runs a few races, and investigates missing socks. Follow her on Twitter: @cdurkinrobinson. Column courtesy of Context Florida.



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